Reserve Beachmasters in Training
A reprint from All Hands
After World War II, the Navy set up a permanent beach group organization. Two commands—Naval Beach Group 1 in Coronado, Calif. and Naval Beach Group 2 in Little Creek, Va.—were established in 1948 to direct the Navy’s beach party.
Each beach group was originally composed of an pontoon construction battalion, an underwater demolition team, a beachmaster unit, a boat unit and an assault craft squadron. Control of the UDTs has since shifted to the Naval Special Warfare Command.
In 1947 two Seabee battalions were recommissioned as pontoon battalions. The 104th NCB was headquartered in Coronado and attached to NBG 1. The 105th NCB was headquartered in Little Creek and attached to NBG 2. On October 31, 1950, these battalions were redesignated as ACB 1 and ACB 2, respectively.
This article is reprinted from All Hands Magazine, October 1956.
When a Navy task force commander directs an assault landing, he has a complex set of "eyes and ears" at the scene of action—an amphibious beach group.
In this age of jet planes, guided missiles and atomic propulsion, the role of the beach group is becoming increasingly important.
The men who form the teams are real amphibians. They land with the troops on an assault beach during an amphibious landing and help make possible the smooth transition of an amphibious invasion from a water-borne to a land-borne operation. They set up radio communications on the invasion beaches, salvage disabled landing craft in the surf zone and beach area, bring in the ponderous pontoon causeways for unloading heavy vehicles, and direct traffic in the beach area—boat traffic in the surf zone and vehicular and personnel traffic across the beaches themselves.
To keep abreast of the scientific advances that continue to change and sometimes revolutionize modern amphibious warfare, the Naval Reserve has developed a realistic training program for its amphibious beach group divisions.
Three such reserve divisions are in operation today—one on the East Coast and two on the West Coast. In time of mobilization, these reservists would be available as individuals to augment naval beach groups in the regular establishment.
Members of the divisions are chiefly officers—Lt. j.g. through Capt.—men with World War II experience in shore party or general amphibious operations or reservists whose experience, education or training qualifies them for duties in connection with planning, organization and administration of beach groups. There are limited administrative billets for enlisted men with yeoman or personnelman qualifications.
The men who make up these groups are highly skilled specialists. They are experts in the operation of pontoon equipment. They know the ins and outs of construction on beaches, operation of LCM lighterage and installation of ship-to-shore assault bulk fuel lines. They are adept at salvage, traffic control and the hundred-and-one other details vital to successful assault landings.
A good example of present day training is the drill recently carried out by members of Naval Reserve Amphibious Beach Group Division 11-1, San Diego, Calif.
Well in advance of the scheduled D-Day, arrangements were made with Naval Beach Group 1, at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado. With the assistance of the Naval Beach Group School, a training exercise was worked out, involving an actual assault landing.
The school provided the equipment for the landing: gear, vehicles, tents and command post equipment. Experienced men from the school were assigned as instructors so the reservists could learn the latest developments in the techniques of beach warfare. The Pacific Fleet’s LCU Squadron 1 supplied LCU craft for the exercise.
Here’s the timetable the reservists followed when their Saturday morning D-Day arrived:
Early in the morning, members of the division assemble at the amphibious base. Wearing full combat uniform, the reservists board the waiting LCU and steam toward the "objecting area"—Blue Beach on Silver Strand.
En route, they receive last-minute instructions on beach communications and are divided into five parties, each assigned to a separate beach sector.
0800: H-Hour. The LCU’s bow grounds on the sands of Blue Beach, the ramp clangs down and the reservists "invade" the beach.
Once ashore, each party proceeds to its assigned sector. The reservists dig two-man foxholes for protection from the "enemy." Each sector is thoroughly scouted. Lateral communications are quickly established and a revetted command post, complete with charts of the beach area, is built.
Evaluation teams, consisting of three officers each, circulate among the beach defenses. They check each evolution, give advice or guidance where necessary.
1130: All sector posts are completed and the evaluation teams inspect the area.
Meanwhile, all voice radio circuits are constantly manned and the operators are drilled in proper techniques of voice radio procedure.
1300: Emphasis is switched to establishing a beach command post. A command tent, which doubles as a briefing shelter, is erected.
1320: Trainees get instruction in beach communications and message procedure. Each reservist has a chance to review each phase of the morning’s operation. Mistakes are pointed out and methods for correcting them are discussed.
1430: Message drill. A simulated assault problem serves as the basis for more practice in voice radio procedure.
1520: Strike shelters, fill foxholes, police the area.
1545: Return to amphibious base.
Throughout the drill, "evaluators" inspect each phase of the operation, taking into consideration such factors as advanced planning, general organization of men and gear and the resourcefulness and attitude of the reservists taking part.
Once the drill is over, the evaluators review the exercise with the division’s commanding officer. The drill is carefully analyzed and recommendations are made for improving future drills.
When the reservists aren’t taking part in a multiple drill involving a battle problem as shown above, they attend lectures and receive practical instruction in the many phases of their operations one night per week.
They cover topics such as the purpose and construction of pontoon barges, use of pontoon causeways, building causeway piers, small craft salvage, amphibious withdrawals, the UDT unit, communications, logistics, beach and surf conditions, cold weather operations and the like.
Bivouacs on the beach are also scheduled so the reservists can put into practice their knowledge of perimeter security, camouflage and concealment.
Training is not restricted to "hit the beach" procedures, however. One division recently scheduled a drill at a Marine Corps installation. Members received instruction in infantry weapons and their effect, including the machine guns, carbines and .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. They also worked in some training in booby traps and land mines.
Reservists of Division 11-1 are currently preparing for "Project Two"—their annual inspection, which will be held in December. This won’t be just a spit and polish inspection of men and equipment, however. The beachmasters are planning an elaborate sand table demonstration of an amphibious assault, putting into practical use the techniques they have learned during drills and on active duty for training.
This story is found in No. 5 (Winter 1999) of the Seabee Log.